With a bling-bedecked NBA star at his side, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. charged yesterday into the home turf of his likely rival in the next gubernatorial race to announce a media campaign that condemns the drugs and violence plaguing Baltimore's streets.
Denver Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony, who grew up in Baltimore, was with the governor to make amends for appearing in Stop Snitching, a documentary featuring gun-toting drug dealers who urge people not to cooperate with police. He said he had no idea that footage of him "chillin'" with friends would end up on such a DVD.
But Anthony, 20, may have become an unwitting player once again - this time in a heated political contest between Ehrlich and Mayor Martin O'Malley.
The governor launched his "Hype vs. Reality" media campaign, which is to include several documentaries and public service announcements, and be paid for with $20,000 in state money and private donations.
He did so without inviting O'Malley or police Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat who says he will meet with Anthony today, expressed disappointment that he was not asked to attend either.
Ehrlich said he doesn't "whine" every time he is not invited to a news conference.
"Some things are not about politics," Ehrlich said, calling the drugs and violence plaguing Baltimore "real serious stuff - life and death, literally." He noted that his media campaign is not a citywide project, but a statewide one, because videos will be distributed in Baltimore and also in Seat Pleasant in Prince George's County.
O'Malley said yesterday morning that he would welcome the governor's visit to Baltimore "if he is sincere and truly wants to help us in reducing violent crime."
"If, on the other hand, he is coming here to deliver some cheap personal political hit against me by belittling the strides and sacrifices that our neighbors and their Police Department have been making, then he's not welcome."
The governor's group - which included city State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy, who frequently spars with O'Malley - gathered yesterday afternoon on a notorious drug corner in East Baltimore, just a block north of Johns Hopkins Hospital, to announce the project. State Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, a Democrat, and Dr. Edward E. Cornwell III, chief trauma surgeon at Hopkins, attended the launch and have agreed to work on the videos.
Ehrlich said Anthony, who wore a giant diamond pendant with his initials and a jewel-studded T-shirt to yesterday's event, would lend street credibility to the media project. The governor joked several times about "the tall guy behind me" and people lining up for autographs - "not from me, though."
Anthony kept his speech short, referring only briefly to the drugs, prostitution and shootings he had seen growing up in West Baltimore
"Y'all can relate to me," Anthony said. He waved off criticism - such as from Cummings - that he didn't get involved in an anti-violence campaign immediately after Stop Snitching hit the streets. He said the basketball season kept him too busy.
But the Nuggets lost in the NBA playoffs last week, and "Melo" said he "jumped on the plane and told them I wanted to get involved."
Anthony told the crowd, which included children from several area Boys and Girls Clubs, that he regretted appearing in the homemade DVD.
"I'm not that type of person," he said, adding that he got a "bad feeling in his gut" when he learned of the DVD's message.
A smattering of protesters holdings posters that read "Actions not ads" and "Stop playing games with our children, Ehrlich" stood along the vacant rowhouses of Ashland Avenue that served as the backdrop for the governor's news conference.
The protesters described themselves as "concerned West Baltimore residents" but seemed not to have a clear idea of why they were there. One man, who asked not to be identified, said the governor's campaign was not a good idea while another in the group said he supports the governor.
Joseph Armstead Jr., a city public works employee who lives in Northeast Baltimore, said he came to the event with an open mind about the governor's plan.
He seemed to leave the event feeling more skeptical.
"The governor says this is not political, but I think we know better," he said. "If it's not political, then why's the mayor not here?"
But Armstead's 14-year-old son came away quite pleased. Clutching a piece of paper with Anthony's scrawl on it, Joseph Armstead III said of his basketball hero: "I thought he was a good guy all along."
Sun staff writer Doug Donovan contributed to this article.